COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NEWARK VALLEY’S GARDNER SIGNS TO PLAY DIVISION I
(2023-11-09)By TIM TAYLOR
Tioga County Sports Report
NEWARK VALLEY — Newark Valley girls basketball standout Cha Gardner will be taking her skills south next year — far south.
The 6-foot-4 senior signed her National Letter of Intent to attend Stephen F. Austin State University next fall.
SFA is located in Nacogdoches in eastern Texas. It’s the oldest town in the state, and is about three hours from Dallas and just under two hours away from Shreveport, Louisiana.
It took Gardner just one visit to realize SFA was where she wanted to continue her education and basketball career.
“I visited there over the summer and it just really felt like a place I could make my home, even though it was so far away, and it had everything I was looking for, both basketball and academic-wise,” she said.
Gardner believes her persistence will be a plus for the Lumberjacks program.
“I will work as hard as I possibly can at all times and I have big goals that I want to achieve, and I'll do anything to achieve more,” she said.
She believes she needs to fine-tune her all-around game to be competitive at the NCAA Division I level.
“I feel like I could improve on everything, but I feel like I'll focus on being consistent with my shot-making ability,” she said. “I want to work on dribbling, and I want to keep being strong at rebounding and defense for sure.”
Playing for NV has given Gardner some solid insight into the sport.
“It has allowed me to see what it's like to win and what it's like to lose, and it helped me become the leader that I am today, and that was paved by the leaders I've had before,” she said.
Of course, she’s collected many more Ws than she has the other. Newark Valley has posted a 79-5 record with Gardner on the varsity roster.
With her senior season yet to come, Gardner has already been named to the all-state second team twice (Class B in 2022-23 and Class C in 2021-22).
She is closing in on 1,000 career points with the potential to reach 1,000 career rebounds as well (NV missed about half of a season due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
A member of the varsity team since the eighth grade, she was the IAC South Large School MVP last season and made the first team as a sophomore. She averaged a double-double (15.7 points, 14.0 rebounds) her junior year.
Gardner has also been named a Basketball Coaches Association of New York Southern Tier all-star twice and was selected one of BCANY’s top 50 players.
Last season, she was named The Sports Report
Regional Girls Basketball Player of the Year and was selected the Regional Player of the Week six times. She was also named the All-Tioga County Girls Basketball Player of the Year and was the IAC South Large School MVP last season. Gardner has received several other honors, to include tournament MVPs and selections to all-tournament teams.
All accolades aside, NV coach Greg Schweiger knows Gardner’s talent speaks for itself.
“Basically her love is defense, and blocking shots, clogging up the middle, rebounding the basketball and kicking it out and then initiating quick offense,” he said. “I think she's going to do that immediately for them. And then her offensive game will grow from there in terms of her establishing herself on the post and being a threat there.
“I think you're going to see this year too, her expanded role and being more of a ball handler and a mid-range long distance jump shooter.
“She's got good balance on offense, but I think her biggest strength is her defense, rebounding and blocking shots, and then getting that fast break going. That's what I think she'll do immediately for them.”
With SFA some 1500 miles away, her family won’t be attending every game, but ESPN+ will air several contests.
“They might make it to one or two, but it's streamed online and the school tries to get at least one game close to home, so we're going to try to make it to that point,” Gardner said.
“It's going to be weird,” she added. “I always look at them and I could have a blank expression on my face, but they know exactly what I'm thinking, so it'll definitely be weird, but I'll just have to adjust.”
The Lumberjacks went 27-7 last season, 15-3 in the Western Athletic Conference, and played in the Postseason NIT. SFA has averaged 25 wins per season for the past seven seasons.
Gardner was also a standout on the volleyball court. She took her junior year off, but returned this season, and head coach Kelsey O’Donnell couldn’t have been more excited.
“Cha is one of the best athletes to come through Newark Valley,” O’Donnell said in note, unable to attend the signing ceremony. “She's coachable, driven, naturally athletic and has the mindset of an athlete to do anything it takes to win. And her height certainly doesn't hurt.
“Even though she isn't going D-1 in volleyball, she very well could have. I know basketball is her love and I couldn't be happier for her. I can't wait to see her dominate on the court at SFA and continue to make all her fans back home extremely proud.”
PHOTOS BY TIM TAYLOR.
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